Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Mark Gatiss’s History of Horror

Hang on a moment! I completely forgot to say anything about A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss on the BBC. If you’re reading this immediately after it was posted, you will still be able to catch the last episode on …

Tue, Nov 2, 2010, 19:09

   
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Hang on a moment! I completely forgot to say anything about A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss on the BBC. If you’re reading this immediately after it was posted, you will still be able to catch the last episode on BBC2 later tonight. You couldn’t say it was a perfect series. Three episodes are not nearly enough to offer even a cursory survey of movie horror and (acting under instructions?) Mark did dwell on a great deal of rudimentary stuff that will be thumpingly familiar to even casual fans of the genre.

The former League of Gentleman member is, however, an endlessly engaging guide and he managed to tempt an extraordinary array of grizzled greats before the camera. How nice it was to see Gloria Stuart, hunched but still alert, talking amiably about Boris Karloff in The Old Dark House. Ms Stuart eventually passed away in late September and the interview served as a charming accidental obituary.

The series had particular poignancy for this writer because I was introduced to classic horror in exactly the same way as Mr Gatiss. We both stayed up late — often after much pleading — to enjoy Universal and Hammer (plus the odd Amicus or Tigon) shockers on Friday nights in the early 1970s. While Mark was watching Curse of Frankenstein on Tyne Tees, I was watching the same film on UTV. Forty years later we get to bore you about them.

The show was at its best when dealing with British folk horror of the late 1960s and 1970s. It was a miracle that any films got made in the UK during those years. It was doubly miraculous that pictures as good as Blood on Satan’s Claw, The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General made it onto screens. The sheer oddness of those pictures still resonates. Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (sic) may be scarier, but they aren’t as impressively clammy and queasy.

At any rate, if you didn’t watch the show, you’ll just have to wait until it returns to BBC4 (no BBC iPlayer in these territories, alas). In the meantime, a genuinely excellent, feature length documentary on Universal Horror is available as an extra with the current DVD  issue of The Mummy. The clips from rarer films such as The Man Who Laughs and the Spanish-language version of Universal’s Dracula are to be greatly cherished.

Remember. There are such things…

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